Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Garden of the Gods

Before the white man settled at the base of Pikes Peak, the area was home to several American Indian tribes, such as the Cheyenne. In August of 1859, two Denver surveyors scouting the area for a new town site, to be named Colorado City, happened upon acreage consisting of sandstone rock formations. One of the surveyors thought the area would be perfect for a beer garden in generations to come. The other believed the land was a better fit for the Gods to assemble, and the name, 'Garden of the Gods' was born. Later, General William Jackson Palmer, founder of Colorado Springs, urged his friend and railroad builder Charles Elliott Perkins to move to the Garden of the Gods area, build himself a home and erect a railroad from Colorado Springs to Chicago. Perkins did come to Colorado Springs. He purchased some of the land and bought more later, but he never built a home amidst the red rocks. He admired the beauty of the land as it was and hoped to arrange for the land to become a public park, but he died before he saw this happen. His children honored his wishes in 1909, and Garden of the Gods became a public park, with no admission fee for entry, no alcohol served and no buildings allowed to be erected.    

Balanced Rock
The park doesn't just consist of red rocks. There are plenty of native plants, bushes and trees to provide shade from the sun. As far back as the late 1800's, folks toured the park in their buggies. And as cameras became more popular and cheaper, they took photos, too. One of the more interesting spots folks visited and still do is Balanced Rock. The name speaks for itself; a large boulder precariously situated on a thin base. Years ago, from fear the rock would topple and roll downhill, the base was filled with cement, though an exact date of when this was done is unknown.
Steamboat Rock
Steamboat Rock is right next to Balanced Rock. A road separates the two. The top of Steamboat resembles a ship deck. Early on, people were allowed to climb to the top of Steamboat. (With the road, people walking by and snapping pictures or enjoying the view, folks aren't allowed to climb to the top any longer.) Steamboat is also unique with the story behind it. It's said that back in the day, the owner of the land encompassing Steamboat and Balanced rock had a son who charged a fee to take photos of the tourists. Once the camera became popular, folks stopped paying the fee. The owner, Goerke, built a tall, wooden fence and charged a 25 cent admission fee so folks could continue to admire and photograph the rocks. People complained and Goerke soon found himself in a dispute with the city of Manitou Springs over who owned the road rights to the rocks. Goerke lost the initial battle but later won in appeals court.  Afterward, it's said that he granted a public right-of-way to the city of Manitou Springs when he was in the process of divorcing his wife so she couldn't claim the property.    
Another such popular attraction is Kissing Camels (left). From the photo, one can see the top of the rocks have formed together to resemble two camels kissing. Thousands of photos of the camels have been taken by locals and by tourists. From the modern day parking lot, a sidewalk leads down the front side of the camels, loops around and comes up the back side. Rock climbing near the camels is allowed, with a permit and proper rock climbing gear.

Today the park is open year-round and receives thousands of guests. A newly built visitor's center showcases a small theatre where one can learn how the rocks were formed billions of years ago, a gift shop and an eatery. At the south end of the park is garden of the Gods Trading Post--a must stop place for those who love all things western and Native American.  One of the oldest trading posts in the west, I speak from experience when I say they have the most beautiful pottery.

Deer are abundant in the park, as are picnic areas and breathtaking views of Pikes Peak, downtown Colorado Springs and Cheyenne Mountain. And best of all, it is still free to the public.


Ciara Gold said...

So fun since I'm headed there in two weeks for a wedding. I'm hoping to find time to explore but fear family doings won't allow much time to see these wonderful sights.

Julie Lence said...

Hi Ciara:
If you're short on time, you can just take a drive through the park. It doesn't take long, about 15 minutes. There are a few places where you stop on the side of the road to take pictures. Hope you have a great visit to the Springs.

Ciara Gold said...

Thanks Julie, I'll be talking my husband into that 15 minute drive.